A month after becoming a mother I was fumbling in the dark corners of rock bottom looking for a light. A lot is expected of new mothers, but most of all, we are supposed to be able to comfort our own child. Mothers, the parenting books say, can listen to their baby’s cry and conclude whether their child is hungry, needs a diaper change, or is just plain cranky. Crying has a solution and the baby can be comforted and soothed by following simple steps. Before I became a mother, I might have agreed. I imagined that when my baby cried, I would be able to fix the problem; I was the mother, after all, and I knew her best. I was confident in my ability to make my daughter happy.
All babies are different. We know this. Some go through infancy with a calm, indulgent smile on their faces while others, well, don’t.
My daughter had colic.
Here’s the thing we don’t hear about babies who suffer from colic: they don’t stop crying, no matter what you do. They will cry regardless of the fact that you just fed them, changed their diaper, and wrapped them in a soft blanket. The word crying doesn’t even describe the almost window-shattering screams emanating from our daughter as she voiced her unhappiness with the world around her. Our pediatrician shrugged her shoulders and said that there was nothing she could do; our baby was healthy (for which we were grateful) and the colic would probably subside after a few months.
I used to believe that my daughter didn’t like being a baby; that her independent spirit resented relying on anyone, even her parents, for her every need. I tried everything I could think of: taking her for walks in her stroller, taking her for a drive, putting her car seat near the washing machine (I was told that the vibrations would be soothing – they weren’t), and rocking her back and forth. Nothing helped. After trying everything I could think of, I accepted that all I could do was hold my baby close, walk slowly around the house and will her to calm down.
We often cried together; she was miserable and I felt powerless to help her. I also felt I had failed as a parent after only a month. Mothers are supposed to be able to comfort their infants and I hadn’t even managed that simple, basic task. Rock bottom is a lonely and scary place, but it also forced me to look around for any lifeline to help me climb back out. That is when I remembered the stories.
Growing up, I used to listen to books on tape, first on an ancient cassette player and later on my Walkman. I remember spending hours on long car rides listening to the same tapes over and over until I knew every word and every voice. Over time, the stories sank to the bottom of my memory and I didn’t think about them for many years. In my hour of need, however, they bobbed back up to the surface of my mind.
As my daughter and I meandered on rock bottom, walking around the house together for hours, I started to retell the stories. My favorite one was of a little troll who lived in a mountain with his large extended family. I told the story about when his family celebrated Christmas together; when they ice skated and when the troll and his little brother put on a play for all the animals in the forest. I remembered the voices and the words, and began telling them over and over again to my daughter, just as I had listened to the stories when I was young.
I know you probably want to think that the stories healed my daughter’s colic, but they didn’t.
Nothing I did had the slightest effect on my daughter’s crying, but reciting my favorite childhood stories did make me feel better. They were like a long mantra that comforted me while I tried to comfort her as she cried her way through the first months of life.
They were the lifeline we needed and became the foundation of our journey of reading together. Her colic eventually ended and she became a happy, healthy, smart girl who loves books. Story time was sacred at our house. It was the time when we snuggled up close together drifting off into our own world of imagination. I like to think that some of them remain deep in her memory waiting to be recalled in a future hour of need.
My daughter is almost sixteen years old now and we still read together every day.
Our reading has changed over the years. We have graduated from picture books and Dr. Seuss to chapter books. We have moved from the children’s section to adult novels. We have read classics and adventures and developed an enduring love for Harry Potter. Our choices of literature remain an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. We have only one rule: We have to like what we read.
During the weeks we read after school. We grab a snack and talk about our day and then read our latest book. We don’t always have time to read for long: homework and the outside world beckon my daughter, but I still cling to reading as the strong lifeline that has played a crucial role in keeping us together.
A few weeks ago my daughter wrote an essay for school about our connection to stories and reading together.
This time, I was the one to cry.
Guest post written by Daniela Loose. Daniela is a freelance writer. Her writing has appeared on Scary Mommy and Mothers Always Write. She lives in New England. Photo by Raquel Nelepovitz